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Neonatal care staff well-being and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic: An update

It is well-known that the COVID-19 pandemic has largely affected the psychological well-being of medical and nursing staff working in intensive care units. Much of research in this field has focused on those professionals who were at the forefront of the pandemic, caring for critically-ill adult patients positive to SARS-CoV-2 virus. Nonetheless, the quality of care and the general caring environment has changed even in other units, including neonatal services. Thanks to a multi-centric cross-sectional project conducted in collaboration with dr. Luigi Gagliardi - with the funding of Tuscany Region - we were able to provide a general picture of the mental well-being and burnout of neonatal staff during the pandemic in 13 neonatal units in Tuscany, Italy.

The study - recently published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics - included more than 314 neonatal healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, and other specialists). Scores above the clinical risk cut-off were obtained from 91% participants for what pertains anxiety, 29% for post-traumatic symptoms, 13% for general burnout, and 3% for depression symptoms. Half of the sample reported at least one psychosomatic symptom.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exert a relevant stress toll on the mental health of neonatal and pediatric healthcare professionals.

While it was not possible to do a longitudinal comparison of symptoms between pre- and post-pandemic time, a retrospective ad-hoc score for pandemic-related stress was obtained and quantified using a self-report questionnaire. This score reflected how much the healthcare professionals were under stress for factors directly (e.g., risk of contagion) or indirectly (e.g., lifestyle changes) related to the pandemic. The pandemic-related stress score was significantly associated with greater risk of anxiety, post-traumatic symptoms, emotional exhaustion, and depression. The risk was higher for women with no significant differences related to the unit (neonatal ward vs. NICU) and job (physicians vs. nurses).

These findings suggest that the psychological negative effects of the COVID-19 healthcare emergency should not be underestimated even in those healthcare specialists who were directly involved in the treatment of adult patients positive to SARS-CoV-2. Unforeseen environmental challenges and emergencies may place additional tolls on the general mental health of specialists who are already under pressure in their daily job. Appropriate preventive and care actions should be developed and improved to support the psychological well-being of neonatal care staff in wards and intensive care units.


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Citation | Gagliardi, L., Grumi, S., Gentile, M. et al. The COVID-related mental health load of neonatal healthcare professionals: a multicenter study in Italy. Ital J Pediatr 48, 136 (2022).

More on this project | This paper is part of the SPACE-NET project. More info here.


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